Saturday evening. A local Philly-area pub. The Philadelphia 76ers are in action. Allegedly.
Featured on the multiple televisions which flank the establishment include an international soccer match, women’s figure skating and, of course, Access Hollywood.
Wednesday night. A South Jersey hole in the wall. A middle-aged man belting out Luther Vandross on a karaoke machine in the background. For those who prefer sports—or perhaps just a Marvin Gaye tune instead—there is basketball on the TV at the bar. Well, actually, it’s a pregame show for a later game.
Meanwhile, the Sixers are in a heated, back-and-forth battle with the Milwaukee Bucks with only minutes left in the fourth quarter. How do we know? The update tells us on the scrolling ticker seen on the bottom of the pregame show screen.
This is a scene that plays out, repeatedly, in establishments throughout the Delaware Valley, a region heaping in hoops history, featuring the likes of Wilt the Stilt, Dr. J and The Kangaroo Kid; legends whose legacies will last as long as life itself.
A place where playground pickups first introduced the world to Kobe and Earl the Pearl, Rip and Rasheed. The Big Five. Hoops Heaven.
So what gives?
It’s not as if Philly is currently distracted by the achievements of its other major teams in town. All three of them have disappointed and underachieved more than Jim Carrey in a dramatic role. In the cycle of peaks and valleys that most sports cities go through, Philly is currently miles below ground level.
Yes, each of them have had periods of extended accomplishment since the Sixers last contended with Allen Iverson and a bunch of hard-working, defensive-oriented role players back in the early 2000s (and even then, they only caught lightning in a bottle for a season).
Since then, the Eagles and Flyers, until recently, had been perennial contenders (with multiple conference championship appearances for each) and the Phillies, the losingest franchise in sports history who broke a city-wide, quarter-century title draught in 2008, have not experienced a losing season in over a decade now.
So yes, I get it. But for a city which has dealt with its share of lumps, which has remained loyal through the losing, which prides itself on its passion for everything athletic, those reasons are not good enough.
Maybe in Los Angeles, where the fans come for the sake of status. Maybe in Miami, where “fair weather” has multiple meanings. Maybe even New York, where fans enjoy the luxury of having a pupu platter of professional teams.
But not in Philly.
For those who are simply waiting for a reason, for something to cling on to, for those who rode the Answer but were left with more questions, who believed Chris Webber was the missing piece, who got jiggy with Iggy, who bought into Brand and believed in the Bynum blockbuster, only to get burned each time…I propose to you that there’s hope yet. And here’s why:
For one, cap room. Plain and simple.
The days of bloated, multi-year contracts and Billy King outbidding himself to re-sign one-trick ponies like Kyle Korver or a one-legged Willie Green are behind us.
With or without an Andrew Bynum extension, the Sixers have enough expiring deals to afford itself the cap flexibility to be major players in the free-agent market this summer, potentially signing more than one A-lister, thus creating a Brooklyn-style transformation.
Secondly, every day there’s a Holiday in town.
For the first time since Iverson left (the first time), there is a legitimate star on the court for Philly. The hope was that it would have been Andre Iguodala, but he turned out to be a reluctant prophet better suited as a second fiddle.
Instead, in his departure, Jrue Holiday has taken the giant leap toward elite status while playing a position—point guard—that currently has its share of elite players. Throw in the prospects of a healthy Bynum (hey, it could still happen), and all of a sudden, there’s a Big Two.
If Evan Turner ever gets his act together (hey, that could still happen, too) and/or Thaddeus Young continues to raise his game, now you’ve at least got the Big Three which it seems every team needs these days to win it all.
The prospects of these pieces coming together for an extended period of success for the first time since the 1980s—and happening sooner rather than later—exists. However, the excitement of watching it all develop organically, in front of a loyal fanbase dying for a reason to hope, may not.
And there’s nothing more embarrassing than watching Access Hollywood at a bar while the future blossoms in our backyard.